Amber as a Connector of Societies in Prehistory

Jutta Kneisel opens the Amber Workshop at Kiel University.(Photo: Jan Steffen, ROOTS)

Amber is not only a sought-after find for today's beach walkers on the North Sea and Baltic Sea - even in the earliest eras of European human history, amber played an important role, for example as a trade good. That is why it also holds a prominent position in research on prehistoric societies and their interconnections. From 23 to 25 February 2023, 30 experts from all over Europe met at the Kiel University and online to exchange and discuss the latest findings on the social role of amber as a " connector of knowledge and societies" from the Late Neolithic to the Iron Age of Europe at the invitation of the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS. 

"The aim of the workshop was to gain an overview of the European amber trade in these epochs, less with regard to possible exchange routes than to the social aspect of the people who had access to amber," explains ROOTS member Jutta Kneisel. She had organised the workshop together with ROOTS PhD student Benjamin Serbe. 

Among other things, the participants discussed what significance amber had for the societies of the time and which group of people actually gained access to this strange stone from the north. Is amber just as important at its source in the north as it was in faraway Mycenae? Who wore the large amber necklaces, who only wore pendants, who had access to raw amber? Who worked it? Were its flammable and electrostatic properties known? 

"Since colleagues from the Baltic Sea and North Sea regions as well as from countries around the Mediterranean participated, we were indeed able to gain a comprehensive Europe-wide picture of the current state of research on these questions," says co-organiser Benjamin Serbe. 

For many participants, the one-day excursion to the Danish North Sea resort of Blåvand was also a highlight of the workshop. This included both a visit to the amber exhibition of the Tirpitz Museum as well as a walk on the beach with - partly successful - amber hunting. "For some of the colleagues from Southern Europe, this was the first visit to the region of origin of Baltic amber, which impressed them very much", Jutta Kneisel reports. 

At the end of the workshop, the participants agreed that the three-day event had yielded important new insights into the social role of amber in European prehistory. They will soon be published in a joint conference volume.

ROOTS Amber Workshop excursion
The Excursion to the west coast of Denmark was one of the highlights of the workshop. (Photo: Jutta Kneisel)

On a windy day, the participants experienced the harsh North Sea climate. Some even found amber themselves on the beach. (Photo: Jan Steffen, ROOTS)


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